The Paper Kites – At The Roadhouse: Album Review

Melbourne Band, the Paper Kites relocate to Campbells Creek and mine a crock of gold.

Release Date:  1st September 2023

Label: Wonderlick

Formats: CD / Vinyl / Digital

Photo: Dara Munnis. @daramunnis

This one’s got an interesting story behind it!  

Back in July, 2022, Melbourne, Victoria 5-piece outfit, The Paper Kites went searching for a space that they could turn into a studio-cum-performance-venue and, after scouting the towns and villages of southern Victoria, they came upon a suitable building in Campbells Creek, a former gold-mining town some 140km outside Melbourne.  The building in question was originally a store for gold-mining equipment, before it was converted into a hotel.  It was almost destroyed by fire in 1876, but the building’s structure survived and was identified by The Paper Kites as being perfectly suited to their intended purpose – conversion to The Roadhouse, The Paper Kites’ very own studio and venue complex.  

Conversion complete, the band set about developing and rehearsing new material for what would become their sixth album.  Rehearsals took place during weekdays and, at weekends, it was ‘open house’ and The Paper Kites performed their new songs to whoever could, and would, turn up to see them.  The weekend shows were publicised only by word of mouth, but word quickly got around and, within just a month of starting their venture, the band were having to turn people away, so popular had their shows become.  Tapes were rolled during the shows and the outcome: At The Roadhouse, album no.6 from The Paper Kites.  

Paper Kites’ guitarist/lead vocalist Sam Bentley picks up the story: “The Roadhouse was really something from a collective dream we had to try and manifest into a real place.  It was a venue that we’d talked about over the years, a place for people to come and hear music.  We wanted it to be a combination of all the greatest dive bars you’ve ever been to, late-night watering holes, smoky taverns, biker bars – but it didn’t exist, so we had to build it, and then we had to try and fill it.”  Sounds good to me…  

The Paper Kites formed in Melbourne in 2009, when school friends Sam Bentley and keyboardist Christina Lacy hooked up.  David Powys (backing vocals, guitars and banjo), Samual Rasmussen (bass) and Josh Bentley (drums) joined up in 2010, and The Paper Kites were in business.  The band’s 2010 single, Bloom, attracted significant attention in the local media and the band’s popularity started to grow (Bloom was certified platinum in the USA, Canada, Australia, Italy and The Netherlands by 2021.)  

Fast forward to early 2012, and the Paper Kites undertook their first headlining Australian tour; their debut full-length album, States, hit the racks in mid-2013 and they’ve since performed throughout the English-speaking world, with shows in New Zealand, the UK, the USA and Canada, as well as in mainland Europe.  In 2019, the band’s album, On the Corner Where You Live, was nominated for an ARIA Music Award.  

The Paper Kites [photo: Nick McKinlay]

But what do The Paper Kites sound like?” I hear you ask.  Well, that’s a bit like asking “What shape is a sponge?”  They started life as a kind of folk band, with Sam Bentley’s fingerpicked acoustic guitar and Christina’s and his harmony vocals taking centre-stage.  And, whilst there’s still some of that stuff to enjoy on At The Roadhouse, there’s a whole lot more that’s gone into the gumbo that is the repertoire of The Paper Kites.  For example, there’s a healthy serving of country rock.  Blues also gets a good look-in, particularly blues of the melodic style purveyed to such great impact by Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac.  Also, if grunge is your thing, then you’ll find some of that, too, within the grooves of At The Roadhouse.  When he was once asked to define the definitive Paper Kites style, Sam Bentley replied “We are whatever we released on the last record.”  Fair enough…  

At the Roadhouse is a long, long, album – sixteen substantial tracks, in fact.  The vinyl version of the album is a double-disc affair, with most of the lazy, sun-drenched country-flavoured material featuring on Disc 1, whilst the rockier cuts surface on Disc 2 and, I suggest, it’s in the vinyl format that this album provides the most satisfying listening experience.  

For the album, Sam and the regular Paper Kites have taken the decision to augment their lineup with the services of Hannah Cameron (backing vocals, organs, piano and percussion), Chris Panousakis (backing vocals, guitars and percussion) and Matt Dixon (pedal steel and guitars) and it’s a plan that has paid some mighty dividends, particularly in the case of Matt’s pedal steel, which is all-pervading on the more countrified material, weaving, swooping and soaring through, above and around songs like opening track Midnight Moon, the glorious Till the Flame Turns Blue, the intimate Marietta and, maybe best of all, on current single Hurts So Good, a song on which Sam and the band manage to evoke the spirit of the late, great Gram Parsons in one of his tenderer moments.  

Blues gets its look-in with the gritty Black & Thunder, a song that’s illuminated by some wonderfully simmering electric guitar, Burn the Night Away, a rock-solid tune, awash with sublime harmony vocals, the sultry, anthemic Marcy that brings the album almost to a satisfying conclusion and, one of my particular favourites, the atmospheric I Don’t Want to Go That Way, a song that, in structure, form and lyrical content, and in its air of resigned loss, reminds me so much of songs like Man of the World and Need Your Love So Bad.  

The Paper Kites are a tuneful bunch, too.  Maria It’s Time positively bubbles with life as a chiming electric guitar lick sets a theme that’s irresistible.  Green Valleys burns slowly and builds even slower, until the listener is taken for a ride on the wings of a soaring eagle, high above the valleys of the song’s title.  It’s relaxing and dreamy and, I suspect, it’s a song to which listeners will return, over and over.  And just about everyone gets a look-in on the instantly likeable The Sweet Sound of You.  Christina’s piano provides the melody, Josh’s brushed drums are barely audible – but you’d definitely miss them if they weren’t there – and Sam’s harmonica solo seems to actually melt into Matt’s pedal steel as the two instruments blend together.  

So – let’s talk absolute favourites.  June’s Stolen Car is the album’s most overt rocker.  A Vibrant electric guitar leads the way, whilst Sam and David share the lead vocals.  That’s a Paper Kites ‘first’ apparently, and it works a treat.  The lyrics recount the story of a reckless, lawless joy-ride and, with lines like “It’s a long, long ride to the next town, boy, if you wanna start something new” reminds us that these songs originate in Australia, not here in the UK, or even in Southern California.  Pocketful Of Rain is the album’s sole concession to the folksiness of yesteryear.  It’s a gentle, atmospheric song, dominated by Sam’s signature fingerpicked guitar, with lyrics that explore the emotional spectrum between despair and optimism.  And the subtle tones of Matt’s pedal steel and some delicious harmony backing vocals are all the embellishments needed.  

And so – to the album’s widescreen closing track, Darkness At My Door.  With big, big choruses, soaring guitars and yet more of those wonderfully tight vocal harmonies, it is, perhaps, the song that brings all the various strands that make up The Paper Kites tightly together.  In feel, it’s probably closer to Laurel Canyon than Campbells Creek, but it’s the perfect way to close this uniquely diverse album.  And, it seems that the audience at The Roadhouse agree.

Watch The Paper Kites perform their current single, Hurts So Good, at their very own venue – The Roadhouse, Campbells Creek, Victoria, here:

The Paper Kites: Website / Facebook / X / Instagram / YouTube / Spotify

If you would like to keep up with At The Barrier, you can like us on Facebook here, follow us on Twitter here, and follow us on Instagram here. We really appreciate all your support.

Categories: Uncategorised

Tagged as: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.